'Trendy Hendy' under fire for taking Eton in 'aggressively woke' direction

Camilla Turner
·3-min read
Simon Henderson is the youngest Head Master in the school’s 580 year history
Simon Henderson is the youngest Head Master in the school’s 580 year history

Eton College’s Head Master is said to be losing the confidence of staff amid growing discontent at his attempts to move the school in an “aggressively woke” direction.

Since taking up the position five years ago, Simon Henderson - who is nicknamed “Trendy Hendy” - has embarked on a programme of cultural change at the 580-year-old school.

Sources say that the backlash over the dismissal of one of Eton’s masters following a row over a lecture on "The Patriarchy Paradox" has been particularly fierce because it has brought to the fore a series of underlying tensions at the school.

“Eton has moved in quite an aggressively woke direction,” a source told The Telegraph. “It has very much come from the top with the new head. A lot of the teaching staff do not like it.  

“What sort of person wants to teach at Eton? It is not your typical comprehensive school. They tend to be pretty highly qualified and they tend to have a strong belief in institutions”.  

Mr Henderson created a new role of “Director of Inclusion Education” to oversee diversity efforts at Eton, and has also appointed the first ever female to the position of Lower Master which is the equivalent of deputy head.  

Another source said that Mr Henderson “feels strongly” about changing the perception of Eton as an “old fashioned pillar of social and male elitism”. But they added that the "general view [among staff] would be that he has got it wrong on this one".

 Last week The Telegraph revealed that Will Knowland was allegedly dismissed for gross misconduct over a lecture which questioned “current radical feminist orthodoxy”.

The lecture was part of the Perspectives course taken by older students to encourage them to think critically about subjects of public debate.

But Mr Knowland alleges that he was banned from delivering the lecture and dismissed after he refused to remove a video of the lecture from his personal YouTube channel.

A petition, launched by current Eton pupils, accused the school of “institutional bullying” claiming that it was a “gross abuse of the duty of the school to protect the freedoms of the individual”.

The petition,  which had amassed over 2000 signatures, claimed that the school had acted in a  "heartless and merciless”  way over its dismissal of Mr Knowland.  

Toby Young, general secretary of the Free Speech Union which is supporting Mr Knowland, said: "The reason the headmaster is losing the confidence of the staff and  the boys isn't because they’re hard right reactionaries who'll die in a ditch to defend every last tradition.

"They just don’t think the headmaster should be trying to impose woke ideology on the school and punishing anyone who dissents from it.

"Eton of all places should be encouraging its pupils to think for themselves, not shoving politically correct views down their throats."

Mr Henderson, who is the youngest Head Master in the school’s 580 year history, was previously headmaster at Bradfield College in Berkshire and a former head of history at Eton.

He was educated at Winchester College and went on to read history at Brasenose College, Oxford, before teaching at Eton between 2001 and 2009.

Eton College declined to respond to the claims about Mr Henderson losing the confidence of staff but said that Mr Knowland's dismissal was "not a free speech issue". 

A spokesman for the school said: "The school made the reasonable request that the teacher temporarily remove it pending further discussion, but despite multiple requests and then instructions he persistently refused to do so."

"At that stage, an internal disciplinary process began and the disciplinary panel determined that the master’s actions represented gross misconduct which should result in dismissal."

The spokesman added that Eton College is "always saddened to see matters reach such an outcome".

But they reiterated that the school had "no choice in the face of clear legal advice and the persistent refusal to even temporarily remove the content".